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A collection of fictional but semi-autobiographical stories, this work comes from one of the most influential guitarists in music history. The tales are recalled in a conversational, feverish tone, following the musician in his childhood and young adulthood in post-World War II suburbia, pausing along the way for moments of clarity and introspection. The stories resist cat A collection of fictional but semi-autobiographical stories, this work comes from one of the most influential guitarists in music history. The tales are recalled in a conversational, feverish tone, following the musician in his childhood and young adulthood in post-World War II suburbia, pausing along the way for moments of clarity and introspection. The stories resist categorization—part memoir, part personal essay, part fiction, and part manifesto they simply stand alone, having their own logic, religious dogma, and mythological history.


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A collection of fictional but semi-autobiographical stories, this work comes from one of the most influential guitarists in music history. The tales are recalled in a conversational, feverish tone, following the musician in his childhood and young adulthood in post-World War II suburbia, pausing along the way for moments of clarity and introspection. The stories resist cat A collection of fictional but semi-autobiographical stories, this work comes from one of the most influential guitarists in music history. The tales are recalled in a conversational, feverish tone, following the musician in his childhood and young adulthood in post-World War II suburbia, pausing along the way for moments of clarity and introspection. The stories resist categorization—part memoir, part personal essay, part fiction, and part manifesto they simply stand alone, having their own logic, religious dogma, and mythological history.

30 review for How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    John Fahey was a cumbersome, difficult, curmudgeonly, arrogant, original, enterprising, witty, intellectual, self-lascerating, impossible, monomaniacal, gracious, kindly, genial, spiteful, burly, unkempt big lumbering grouchy old bear of a man, I met him in 1999, about 18 months before he died, and it's always a nervous thing, meeting your heroes. But it was great. Although his mental health perhaps wasn't all it could be; he was wandering round the world crashing heavily into things, into peopl John Fahey was a cumbersome, difficult, curmudgeonly, arrogant, original, enterprising, witty, intellectual, self-lascerating, impossible, monomaniacal, gracious, kindly, genial, spiteful, burly, unkempt big lumbering grouchy old bear of a man, I met him in 1999, about 18 months before he died, and it's always a nervous thing, meeting your heroes. But it was great. Although his mental health perhaps wasn't all it could be; he was wandering round the world crashing heavily into things, into people's lives, and not much noticing the damage, either to him or them. I should mention that Fahey was America's greatest steel string acoustic guitar player. Fahey could write very well, very lyrically - see his lovely liner notes for the album "The Yellow Princess" for instance. But his writing about his own life was anything but lyrical, it was angry, it was hateful, bursting with venom directed towards his parents and the various dreadful (allegedly) bullying friends he had; which is sort of standard misunderstood-genius shtick, but Fahey laid it on with a trowel. He wrote a long autobiographical thing called "Admiral Kelvinator's Clockwork Factory" (terrible title). He couldn't get it published (he sent me a copy of it years ago). Finally parts of it turned up in this collection of rants. These are pieces about either Fahey's early life or about interesting people he knew, like Bukka White or Skip James. It's an odd book from a very odd man. Essential if you're a fan - otherwise, for lovers of American eccentricity. Note : there's a posthumous follow-up called Vampire Vultures, which I do not recommend (shudder).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    the paradox of this beauty is that it is actually a mystical journey akin to laying in the grass and staring into the sun. yea, i could riff on the dry humor that resonates off the hollowbody rebuffs by skip james and michaelangelo antonioni that are worth the price of admission by themselves, but that doesn't begin to pluck the bareness of fahey's magic. an hallucinogenic fishing trip with bukka white and a spiritual covenant made with the ghost of hank williams are depictions of a soul that tr the paradox of this beauty is that it is actually a mystical journey akin to laying in the grass and staring into the sun. yea, i could riff on the dry humor that resonates off the hollowbody rebuffs by skip james and michaelangelo antonioni that are worth the price of admission by themselves, but that doesn't begin to pluck the bareness of fahey's magic. an hallucinogenic fishing trip with bukka white and a spiritual covenant made with the ghost of hank williams are depictions of a soul that truly uses art as a medium of emotion. without so much as a slight of hand or a whammy bar, fahey shows us how the relationships we have with music can transform our lives. i just got done sharing this book with my father and he loved it, too. i look forward to andrew's review...go ahead, destroy your life, join the club.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    quite lovely short stories based on THE TRUTH, in the beat style, like sitting on the porch of that weird guy down the road and him regaling you with the most mind blowing tales of growing up a punk, getting into music, playing the guitar, making of your life that of an artist. and you think...man this guys is NUTS, this CAN'T be true, he couldn't have done and seen all this and ingested all that and been with all these people and had all these adventures. But then you realize it IS true. here's quite lovely short stories based on THE TRUTH, in the beat style, like sitting on the porch of that weird guy down the road and him regaling you with the most mind blowing tales of growing up a punk, getting into music, playing the guitar, making of your life that of an artist. and you think...man this guys is NUTS, this CAN'T be true, he couldn't have done and seen all this and ingested all that and been with all these people and had all these adventures. But then you realize it IS true. here's an excerpt from story “The Center of Interest Will Not Hold” “Bluegrass music and blues are full of anger and fear and anxiety and trembling and hostility and propaganda and…..well, mostly aggressively angry sentiments and stuff. I mean I was too young to understand that. What the hell could I do? Of course, now we all know better but back then….He taught me that bluegrass is just sad music. It isn’t. It is: unhappy music. Discontented music. Nihilist music. Atheistic music. Terrorist music. Godless music. Irresponsible music. Uncanny music. Sensual music. Unbridled music. Troubled music. Distressful music. Harassing music. Agitating music. Panic music. Demoralizing music. Tormenting music. Instrumental music. Shocking music. Browbeating music.. Unfriendly music. Outlaw music. Gloomy music. Heartaching music. Lamentable music. Desolation music. Pagan music. Death music. Electric Chair music. Castrating music. Sadistic music. Nazi music. And bluegrass music gives you liberal ideas, perverse cravings, makes you horny, angry, antisocial, neurotic, criminal, reptilian, sociopathic, lonely, unhappy, un-PC, EVIL. Know what I mean? So because of Dick Spottswood and Don Owens and Bill Monroe, I became a professional guitar player and composer. What the hell kind of gig is that? I could’ve been a contender. So let me tell you something. It could be of use to your. If you’re ever somewhere and you hear some maniac playing minor thirds on a mandolin against an E-major chord on guitar---run. It’s bad ecology man, man. Go find somebody who has records of people playing major thirds on a piano or something. That’s not a dangerous instrument. Not like the mandolin. No. Never. Mandolins and banjos are evil. I was right all the time. Bluegrass music is the music of PAN.”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Johan

    Who would have guessed that John Fahey could write prose like this? I really liked this book of short stories very loosely based on Fahey’s own life. The parts about country bluesmen Skip James and Bukka White are very good and funny. The one about Skip James is especially interesting because of Fahey’s very negative views about the folk scene of the times. Otherwise the writing is quite original and there’s a lot of references to hinduism and German philosophers and various reptiles, one can’t Who would have guessed that John Fahey could write prose like this? I really liked this book of short stories very loosely based on Fahey’s own life. The parts about country bluesmen Skip James and Bukka White are very good and funny. The one about Skip James is especially interesting because of Fahey’s very negative views about the folk scene of the times. Otherwise the writing is quite original and there’s a lot of references to hinduism and German philosophers and various reptiles, one can’t really be sure but I guess this gives at least a little bit of an inside view of Fahey’s interests. The first piece about his childhood is actually quite creepy in its portrayal of the local kid’s gang and its Hitleresque methods of going against their parents. An interesting and funny read to say the least!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Short stories and musings loosely based on truth by fabulous guitarist John Fahey. Stories of youth growing up in the D.C. suburbs, young love, quests to find old blues singers in Mississippi, performing at folk festivals and recording music for Antonini's film Zabriske Point. Quite intriguing. I would say it would be an enjoyable read for anyone who has spent time with his records. Read it over the course of several plane flights.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Aengus

    Running the Azalea Street Penis Club, worshipping the Great Koonaklaster, catching a world record alligator gar while drinking whiskey with Bukka White, chatting with the ghost of Hank Williams,giving Antonioni an American style ass whupping in Rome, American eccentric and steel guitar maestro tells the story of his life.

  7. 5 out of 5

    flannery

    The best story in here is the one where Roosevelt Sykes talks about why he loves honey. The second best story in here is the one where John Fahey punches Michelangelo Antonioni in the face.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Doo Rag

    bluegrass music is the naked truth

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tony Sannicandro

    What a strange book but then he was a strange person.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mark Patterson

    Philosophies, facts, and fantasies pirhouette, fade, and re-appear in and out of mystery like the Cat People he espies. Wonderful stuff.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rivers

    John Fahey was a weird dude

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel D.

    Really enjoyed the first few and final chapters. Kindof fell apart for me in the middle

  13. 4 out of 5

    Diann Blakely

    Dean Blackwood deserves a new round of hand claps and raised lighters. The former Music City attorney played a crucial part in pulling together the collected prose of his partner in the Revenant record label, visionary guitarist John Fahey. HOW BLUEGRASS MUSIC DESTROYED MY LIFE is unusual in that it was published by a Chicago independent record label, Drag City. The story of how a box of "sticky and suspiciously stained papers," as Fahey's editor puts the matter, became this hilarious, provocati Dean Blackwood deserves a new round of hand claps and raised lighters. The former Music City attorney played a crucial part in pulling together the collected prose of his partner in the Revenant record label, visionary guitarist John Fahey. HOW BLUEGRASS MUSIC DESTROYED MY LIFE is unusual in that it was published by a Chicago independent record label, Drag City. The story of how a box of "sticky and suspiciously stained papers," as Fahey's editor puts the matter, became this hilarious, provocative, scary, and vibrant read is partly provided by the editor's note and by musician/producer Jim O'Rourke's introduction, as well as by Blackwood himself. Blackwood says when he first read Fahey's stories--some of which might also be called memoirs, reviews, or even manifestos--most of them were "complete," in the loosest sense of the word. Impressed, the lawyer/record reissue producer sent "Antonioni," Fahey's chronicle of his involvement with the film "Zabriskie Point," to O'Rourke--whose record label happened to be Chicago's Drag City, which expressed immediate interest in the work. Blackwood tried editing Fahey's material but soon became overburdened. "Drag City found a woman named Damian Rogers," he says, "who took just the right approach--[she kept Fahey's] voice totally intact and only edited for clarity purposes." That voice is at its clearest, smartest, and most hilarious in the Antonioni piece, in which Fahey addresses the revered director--who turns out to be a surly, anti-American jerk--as "Ant." Also noteworthy is "Skip James," a memoir of Berkeley in the '60s detailing the collision between privileged flower children and the largely impoverished country blues singers whom they attempted to adopt. Even the presumably enlightened Fahey is disappointed to discover that Skip James doesn't welcome his acolyte's pilgrimage to Mississippi as anything other than his long-past due. Anyone who knows about Fahey won't be surprised that HOW BLUEGRASS MUSIC DESTROYED MY LIFE became the handsome book currently in stores only through several years of back-and-forth literary negotiation. Indeed, Fahey lost the manuscript several times and originally threw parts of it away, retrieving some sections from a Dumpster. But the jagged interrelatedness of HOW BLUEGRASS MUSIC DESTROYED MY LIFE happens to be the mode of some of the best contemporary fiction writing: Denis Johnson's JESUS' SON and Tim O'Brien's THE THINGS THEY CARRIED are all composed of discrete stories that nonetheless combine to create a novel-like whole. Fahey is predominantly a musician, not a writer, and thus while his prose isn't at the level of those noted here, he brings his firsthand knowledge of the "old, weird America," as Greil Marcus calls it, to an audience hungry for the unmediated and the authentic. (originally published in the Nashville SCENE)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Glass

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The story behind the book is as entertaining as the stories themselves--scrawled random, stained scraps of anything Fahey could find to write in, and shipped to a friend, who merely asked for details about Fahey's ill fated gig composing score for Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. The remaining holes were filled through interviews and so forth. But it's all Fahey. He coulda been a contender. He coulda been a great writer, but aside from this he was was content to write wickedly funny liner notes for The story behind the book is as entertaining as the stories themselves--scrawled random, stained scraps of anything Fahey could find to write in, and shipped to a friend, who merely asked for details about Fahey's ill fated gig composing score for Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. The remaining holes were filled through interviews and so forth. But it's all Fahey. He coulda been a contender. He coulda been a great writer, but aside from this he was was content to write wickedly funny liner notes for his own self published albums, parodying the liner notes of the blues reissues coming out at that time. He "got" the blues--as in, grokked-- in a way no one else did or could have. His characterizations of Bukka White, Skip James, Bill Monroe, and Hank Williams and/or their music may well send you back for a relisten, asking yourself "What did I miss?" Music actually takes up a relatively small amount of ink--some of the more engaging stories revolve around his growing up in Maryland, the neighborhood "gangs", a fictional--almost allegorical--encounter with Fred Rose, first loves, etc. Throughout, I could hear nothing in the background but a handful of my own favorite Fahey tunes--his writing weirdly conjures up the sound of his music--the elaborate "joke" to which he wrote his liner notes. "American Primitive" guitar? Sure, why not. I can safely say that John Fahey's book did NOT ruin my Christmas Break. Much less my life. At least, not yet.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Oliver

    This book is a mystical touchstone. One has to read this at the right time in your life. Especially if you're a guitar player. You might be ready. You might not be ready. If you've never listened to any of John Fahey's music and read the liner notes to his albums perhaps you should start there. If you listen to his music for ten years or so you might be ready. This book is a cosmic melding of fact, fiction and dreams and it is all very real. Real because it existed in the life and mind of Fahey. This book is a mystical touchstone. One has to read this at the right time in your life. Especially if you're a guitar player. You might be ready. You might not be ready. If you've never listened to any of John Fahey's music and read the liner notes to his albums perhaps you should start there. If you listen to his music for ten years or so you might be ready. This book is a cosmic melding of fact, fiction and dreams and it is all very real. Real because it existed in the life and mind of Fahey. We get to spend time scouring black neighborhoods of the south when there were still old blues men to be found as Fahey recounts time with Bukka White and the fearsome Skip James. We also witness Hank Williams last river boat performance and learn about the cat people who come out at night and more. Some of the most magic time is spent in the memories and or imagination of Fahey's as a youth in the suburbs of 1940's and 50's Washington D.C. It is really quite hard to explain, much like Fahey's distinctly original music. But once you "get it" it is a treasure to behold.

  16. 4 out of 5

    A

    The book kinda starts out a bit slow and the pacing is REALLY uneven. But there are some moments that really shine and gives you a neat perspective of Fahey's thoughts but also a fascinating look at what it meant to be a musician during many different decades. I really enjoyed the Antonioni story and the fishing story with Bukka.... Hell, even the Hank Williams story was a interesting read. Lots of German words and references to the occult. I was not much of a fan of his music before reading thi The book kinda starts out a bit slow and the pacing is REALLY uneven. But there are some moments that really shine and gives you a neat perspective of Fahey's thoughts but also a fascinating look at what it meant to be a musician during many different decades. I really enjoyed the Antonioni story and the fishing story with Bukka.... Hell, even the Hank Williams story was a interesting read. Lots of German words and references to the occult. I was not much of a fan of his music before reading this, but now having a new perspective on the author has given me an urge go to revisit his discography. Awesome glimpse into the weird and eccentric parts of America.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    a collection of stories, lies, tall tales, and reasonable bits of history from a man with a unique perspective towards the history of blues, bluegrass, hillbilly, and other deeply american musics. he's a musician, but only a couple of these stories are about making music. many of them are about other musicians, or about record collecting, or about growing up. they're told as memoirs but they're clearly not that. the facts and the fictions are smeared together enough that it doesn't seem necessar a collection of stories, lies, tall tales, and reasonable bits of history from a man with a unique perspective towards the history of blues, bluegrass, hillbilly, and other deeply american musics. he's a musician, but only a couple of these stories are about making music. many of them are about other musicians, or about record collecting, or about growing up. they're told as memoirs but they're clearly not that. the facts and the fictions are smeared together enough that it doesn't seem necessary to believe (or to doubt) any of it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robert Gable

    This book is partially crazy. For example, I doubt that Hank Williams on the night of his death told John Fahey he would be his guardian angel. On the other hand, the pain Fahey felt because of being abused as a child was quite real. Call it a fantastic auto-biography, sort of. The later chapters on finding Skip James, meeting his first record collector and becoming entranced with proto-bluegrass were compelling. He also hated Berkeley hippies. This is all further grist as I get deeper into the c This book is partially crazy. For example, I doubt that Hank Williams on the night of his death told John Fahey he would be his guardian angel. On the other hand, the pain Fahey felt because of being abused as a child was quite real. Call it a fantastic auto-biography, sort of. The later chapters on finding Skip James, meeting his first record collector and becoming entranced with proto-bluegrass were compelling. He also hated Berkeley hippies. This is all further grist as I get deeper into the cult of Fahey.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Edmund

    This book apparently consists of stories by avant-fingerpicker John Fahey that acolyte/rock experimentalist/former sonic youth bass/noise guy Jim O'rourke found in his trash. There are some bizarre pieces about his childhood that are somewhat racey, plus a story about finding Skip James during the folk/blues revival of the early sixties, and a wonderful story about fishing with blues musician Bukka White. This is, ahem, marginal writing at its finest, jerks.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karlyn

    A completely nonsensical book about blues musicians, local radio, incest, cat people, and young love. Deeply emotional. The prose is hardly prose. There isn't a story. Fully amazing. Related bits are contained in a second volume, "Vampire Vultures". John Fahey is known as a master of American/"American primitivist" guitar. A favorite hilarious passage references the inability of 60's Berkeley lefties to wholly love other human beings (you) in a meaningful way.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    grumpy old bastard, Prince George County magick, tutrles and early 20th century ethnic slurs. some Canned Heat shit talk AND humblebrag praise. Not what I wanted it to be, some veils need not be lifted, unless you want Robbie Basho to step up on your American primitive guitar hierarchy over Takoma's bloated face curmudgeon. WOULD prefer an oral history over a greasy motel memoir in this instance.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rupert

    This is a tough one to get the brain around, particulary the first half that deals with Fahey's childhood. Creepy boy logic that is written in fitting creepy boy language. When it works, it really works, transporting you to boggy hidden deep woods not seen by civilized society. Once Fahey hits the music portion of the book it's golden.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dave Trenkel

    Wow. Though I am a huge fan of Fahey's music, I did not expect this to be such a powerful book. Fahey's passion for the music he loves really shines, and some of the autobiographical elements are heartbreaking. Fahey was an important artist, and this book provides some really wonderful insights. Cannot recommend highly enough.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Howard

    starts off as a conventional enough memoir about growing up in a slangy style reminiscent of John Fante. hints of weirdness and darkness start to creep in and build throughout the text until we are left frankly questioning Fahey's sanity. there's a repetitious kind of interrogatory rhythm to the writing, intriguing at first, fresh and raw, but ultimately I was kind of relieved to finish it lol

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    Not an ordinary music bio. in fact, music doesn't figure in until deep into the book. These are bizarre, only quasi-autobiographical stories from my guitar legend of choice. Part curmudgeon, part gonzo, part tasteless sleazebag, part hyper vulnerable distillation of American cultural truth and beauty. The best stories are at the end.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Finally read this one straight through. I've read much of it at various times and completely out of order. This is ok if you are a Fahey fan but probably of little interest to the average music fan. Writing is average and stories are pretty pedestrian. All except the closing story that I think was a nice piece of story telling and good writing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Daisy

    As far as I know, this is the only book that guitar legend John Fahey ever published. Which is too bad, because it is utterly perfect. Fahay's prose is effortless and so delightfully weird that you fall into it with complete abandon, feeling like you found a treasure in the trash.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    An essentially straight autobiography with select details emphatically twisted for comic, or tragicomic, effect and an idiosyncratic, plainspoken style ... sort of like a more misanthropic Kurt Vonnegut. I liked it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    Fahey's writing is strange and whimsical, taking unexpected left turns into nonsense and disappearing into tangents for pages on end only to return to the main theme as if all was easily connected. He writes like he plays guitar, and I'd gladly read this as much as I listen to his music.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Quilliam

    John Fahey is the beginning and the end for me. Even when he writes things other than beautiful sad original acoustic guitar music, like stories.

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